I collaborate on projects that tell stories of connection, origin and resilience so that we can begin to mend ourselves, our communities and the earth.
#1year1outfit: Questions of Origin
This article was published on the Fibershed blog in 2016, I thought it might be time to repost it here for Fashion Revolution week which starts April 24.

From Fashion to Fabric: Questions of Origins

By Nicki Taylor

Nicki Taylor launched the One Year One Outfit Fibershed Affiliate, a project to investigate supply chains and spend the course of a year sourcing one local outfit. Based in Australia, Taylor invited people from around the world to participate in the challenge, cultivating a diverse range of local clothing and community. Fashion Revolution Week asks “Who Made My Clothes?” and as an avid sewist, Taylor knew the answer, but sought to determine who else was involved beyond cut & sew, and reflects here on the experience. 

I am a learning-by-doing kind of person. When I couldn’t find answers to all the questions I had about fabric – Who made it? Were they treated ethically and paid a fair wage? What are the environmental impacts of production? Where is it made? How is the colour produced? – I set about finding something to do about the lack of transparency in the system. That something was to make an outfit from only local sources, using the Fibershed principles of local fiber, local dye and local labour. I set myself a timeline of a year and called the project #1year1outfit.

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Above: (L) Taylor in self-made, local clothing, photo by Kerry Bardot; (R) image c/o Fashion Revolution

I hoped that by working from the ground up with local fiber experts I could get a better understanding of the system and how it worked. Exactly how fiber goes from farm to garment. I invited other makers to join me, and the project became a small network of intrepid researchers supporting each other through the challenges of making local clothes.

We visited farms, we visited mills, we interrogated retailers. We asked questions and when we didn’t get answers we asked questions elsewhere. We were now part of the small, but significant conversation, of “who made my cloth?”

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Above: Stages of One Year One Outfit production, photos by Nicki Taylor

In Perth, Australia, our little team was faced with a few major barriers. We had wool, but no one in our local area made cloth anymore, no one made thread, and no closures were available. So we set about making cloth. We used handspun wool to knit and weave. We used local roving to make felt. In my case, I had done none of these things before and a true appreciation of what it means to make cloth was born. I now appreciate not only the effort taken to sew clothes, but also the effort taken to make cloth!

Our clothes were hand stitched with local handspun wool, and our designs had to account for the lack of closures. I sourced some local clay and made some local buttons in a local wood fired kiln which was an experience in itself! The final outfits from our little Perth team were truly unique to their Fibershed, an achievement that we all felt incredibly proud of.

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Above: Details of Taylor’s locally grown & sewn outfit, photos by Kerry Bardot

Participants from other parts of the world faced different challenges. In Europe, finding information seemed to be the largest barrier, local textiles were available but often the retailers would provide little or no information. The most effective method was to go to the mills directly, and small lines of local linen, silk and wool were found. One cannot help but wonder if more of us were asking questions of the retailers would these products become easier to find? Can we make traceability a factor in fabric sales?

In the US, the work done by Rebecca Burgess and the Fibershed team and leading textile sustainability advocates like Alabama Chanin did not go unnoticed. Finding information was that little bit easier and micro mills are starting to re-emerge, both exciting changes for an industry that had largely moved production overseas. That said, participants still did their fair share of making by hand, with some working from fleece all the way to their final garments. One person carding, spinning and knitting an entire garment in one year is an exceptional achievement.

If you asked the participants of this project why they joined, you may get a variety of answers. But if you ask them what they learned I am certain that they will all tell you that the experience has altered their approach to textiles dramatically. For me, the project has taught me about the value of supporting the economy of our local textile industry; I have learned that synthetic colour production is one of the most damaging stages in textile production and I am determined to learn more about local natural dyes; I have learned how to knit and weave fabric and now can truly value the time and skill required to master these crafts; And, most importantly, the project has compelled me to keep asking questions, and to seek out those that have the answers.

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Above: Examples of Taylor’s natural dyeing explorations in Perth, Australia (sour grass, indigo, and bottle brush), photos by Nicki Taylor

#1year1outfit is now in its second year and makers from around the globe are again spending a year sourcing and building an outfit using only local or completely traceable sources. If you are a learning by doing person, why not join in the fun?

 Gatsby Dreams

I love a good theme party.  My speciality being to err on the side of hilarity.  See selected tame examples below. 

Yes. That is a Power Ranger.

Anyway, I  am here to introduce you to the tamest of dress up in the long history of Nicki dress ups.  The most out of character, beautiful ensemble, such that the dress up purist in me almost feels like I cheated!

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The theme for the party was movie characters and seeing as I had long planned to sew an outfit inspired The Great Gatsby, and even had fabric hoarded for the making of such an thing, I decided that I would use the excuse to make something classy.    Classy, but wearable.   After finding this picture in the book  Art Deco Fashion (Suzanne Lussier) I decided on a cowl necked top and skirt.

I had silk enough to make a silk skirt, but could not see it being worn regularly.  Instead, the skirt is made from wool that has long been in my stash as I ordered it from overseas, thinking it perfect for a winter coat.  On arrival, I realised it was sooooooo sparkly.  Such a rookie error.

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Enter Vogue 1486, a fabric chewing volumptuous model, that I thought would pass as dropped waisted with an untucked shirt.  Pushing it, I know, but do you blame me?  This skirt is everything! It’s got drama, warmth, pockets and I am in love with its sparkle. I’ve been wearing this baby on the school run I like it so much.

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The  top was based on this Drape Drape pattern, altering only the front by removing a wedge from the centre to achieve a higher cowl.

The shirt slides around a little so I added a hook and eye and attached a beaded necklace to the back to hold things in place.  I am thinking I will may use the gold lace headband to make a more permanent tie in the future.

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The party was full of amazing and outrageous costumes and, whilst I felt a little too normal, I was happy to find both Gatsby and Daisy on the dance floor amongst the Ghost Busters, Waynes, Buzz Lightyears, Cleopatras and 2001 Monoliths.

I’d love to know your hilarious dress up stories, anyone else wear Power Ranger suits on the odd occasion?!

Top Details:

Pattern:  Drape Drape, Pattern no 1, size L.  Altered front for higher cowl.

Fabric: Silk satin sourced from a destash blog, secondhand for the win.

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Skirt Details:

Pattern:  Vogue 1486, size 14, no alterations, aside from hand-stitching a hem facing to maximise the length. Lapped zip instead of exposed.

Fabric: Wool tweed with bonus sparkle.  Mood Fabrics circa 2013.  Clearly failing on most environmental fronts, except the fact that the wool is likely to last well.

See also: Saturday Night Stitch, The Fashion Fanatic, and Rachel Boo Dogg who alerted me to the patterns existence and made up an enviable denim version..

Photos by the talented Baker Photography.

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The Cloth Hugger 

Welcome to the first edition of The Cloth Hugger. A hug of eco-dressmaking tidbits.

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To Inspire..

..if you missed the Refashioners series you must check out the drool worth results of this year’s jeans refashion challenge.

..Slow fashion October led to lots of interesting conversations, like this one.

..if you find it hard to envision a modern dressmakers use of felt, here’s some wool felt inspiration

..hand woven artistry in a jacket

..the king of visible mending does a mighty fine job of invisible mending 

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To use..

.. Zero Waste Fashion Design – New book by Holly McQuillan and zero waste patterns available on the download section of her site.

..Wool and the gang – the release of this recycled denim yarn really excited me as a promise of the new kind of products we may soon see

..Great Ocean Road Mill – are promising an all Australian Yarn in the coming months

..Natural Color – New book by Sasha Duerr

..Botanical Colour at your Fingertips- New book by Rebecca Desnos

To skill up..

..I have been researching the idea of painting with natural dyes and found this article on painting with indigo, something I thought was impossible.

..If you are interested at trying your hand at weaving, the Saori technique is such a accessible way to give it a go.

..Upcoming courses in Victoria in indigo dyeing, weaving, spinningfeltingCouture sewing 

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To Read..

Interest in traditional permaculture for textiles and dyes led me to read The Oldest Foods on Earth and Dark Emu, two books that I would highly recommend to anyone interested in Aboriginal heritage and sophisticated permaculture techniques honed over tens of thousands of years.

To app..

Two apps for those that like some numbers behind their decision making:

..Making – designed by Nike (I know!) This app lets you compare the environmental impact of major textile types.  Definitely worth a poke around.  Only on  iTunes

.. My EP+L – Designed by Kering using their Environmental Profit and Loss approach, this app turns the impact of design choices into a dollar value (or euros more specifically). Currently quiet limited in its options and very European focused, but still an interesting approach and one to watch. On iTunes and Google Play

Today’s photos were bought to you by my fledgling dye garden which has wattle, bottle brush, rosemary, pomegranate, and baby native indigo. 

Cover me in wool it’s freezing

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Truth.

I am a consumer.  This wool is brand spanking new, a planned and considered purchase, but a purchase none the less.

Truth.  

I haven’t showered for four days in these photos.

Truth. 

The hat was the only thing I bought camping that could tame my salt, wind and dirt encassed punk style locks.

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Truth.

The wind was so bitter this morning, that we were the sole bodies on the beach.  The kids chasing the willy willies and failing to outrace the wind with their kites. 

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Truth.

I immediately added a snow jacket to this outfit after 2 minutes of photos.  

Truth.

The beauty of this place makes me warmer inside. But wool also helps! 

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Details:

Drape Drape no 2 pattern 11, size L, 8cm added in length. Previously made from a drapier fabric here

My first fabric purchase for the year: Wool double sided knit from The Fabric Store and refashioned velvet from a previous refashion. A refashioned refashion…

The Dark Side

 I have some work to do around panic. 

The last six months for me have been heavily punctuated by a series of medical issues that have troubled me mostly by  the panic.

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 My heart and mind race.  My breathing goes haywire and I am convinced cancer is lurking, ready to take me down. And there’s nothing I can do to stop it. And the tears start rolling. Prematurely mourning. 

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The panic came when a medical professional suggests that “with your history, we had better double check.”  The panic came when the dermatologist told me that the dodgy mole “will be nothing to worry about”. The exact words the doctor who did my breast a biopsy said 3 years ago.  The panic came when I’ve been in bed with a migraine for the 10th day in 6 weeks.  The panic came on days that my fatigue was at its worst.  The panic came when I had chest pain, and the doctor advised me to call the ambulance.  The panic came when they called me back for a second MRI without explanation.  

That’s a lot of panic. 

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I see you panic.  I see your fears.  I see you lurking, ready to pounce.  

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Try me. I dare you.  Next time I’m ready to laugh at your ridiculousness.  To talk back. To tell you to go wait quietly in the corner while I get on with the important job of being well.   

I will not be defined by you today, tomorrow or ever.

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Three simple basics sewn from second hand cloth.   A white linen tank for wearing under all the things, some navy slacks and a navy knit top.

The Dark Side:  Slacks, Oscar de la Renta Vogue Pattern 1721 ,  fabric sourced from an op shop and Pattern Magic knit top, fabric sourced at Sew for Life Destash Market

The Light Side:  Self drafted linen top, fabric sourced from an op shop worn with Tania Culottes

Photography:  Baker Photography 

#1year1outfit West Australian Coatigan

I’ve done it, I have a gigantic oversized West Aussie hug to see me through the winters!

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This coat is West Australian sourced, spun and made.  It has travelled from Roselea the alpaca to local spinning mill, and into to my hands.  The enormity of the task of turning this beautiful fibre into a woven garment was eased by the assistance of my certificate weaving teacher, Ilka White.

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Whilst exploring the weaving options available to me during the course, I decided to focus on the shapes of eucalypt blossoms given that the natural colour of Roselea and her indigo overdye reminded me so much of the beautiful hues in the bark.  Weaving operates on a grid so I first tamed the shapes into a more rectangular formation.

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This structure is called a double deflected weave and the scale of the pattern I could achieve made it particularly attractive.  The cloth was woven on a large floor loom, and I used the entire width, milking it for all it was worth! Once off the loom, the open weave and drape of the fabric gave me pause.  I had to re-imagine my original concept of a more structured coat to suit the fabric.

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The coat was hand sewn with the very same alpaca yarn and I have largely left the edges as they came off the loom, as I felt it was a more genuine approach to the piece.  The collar was supported by a piece of merino felt left over from last years project.

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So there you have it, the first part of my #1year1outfit project for this year.  Entirely West Australian with the small concession of using an imported biodynamic indigo powder as a starter seed to make the organic indigo vat, with local honey and lime.

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To those of you also making local garments, I hope this gives you a little extra pep to keep at it.   I hope that I have something to wear under the jacket by the end of the year, if not, I am sure I can wrap this around enough…..
Details

Alpaca: Windella Alpaca

Spinning: Fiber of the Gods

Dyeing:  Biodynamic organic indigo vat with local honey and lime

Weaving:  Double Deflected Weave, Self woven with the assistance of Ilka White

Sewing:  Hand sewn with alpaca and felt, self drafted.

Process Posts: #1year1outfit  

Worn with:  Naturally dyed Ginger Jeans and Wenona Bike Shirt

PhotographyBaker Photography

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Slow fashion

I blame Nina Proudman.
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You see, I have a childish sense of style. But as I approach 40 I’ve just made the first white shirt I’ve ever owned.

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The epiphany came a few weeks ago when I was selected to attend a formal work interview with only a couple of days notice.  Having not worked in an office for 5 years my wardrobe didn’t have much to offer and whilst I have a nicely procured little stash of fabrics, making a suit in a hurry isn’t my idea of fun.
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Slow clothing is tricky when you are in a hurry.  As I see it I had a couple of options.  Borrow from a friend or find something secondhand. A friend suggested that I try Penny Lane Clothing Exchange, which sells a curated collection of secondhand clothes on behalf of others.  I haven’t bought clothes from a shop for almost 3 years, and there’s the big glaring problem of having changed shape drastically from the norm in that time, which I usually manage by making my own clothes, so I was nervous.

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I mustered the courage to explain to the owner in a quiet moment my problem.  Interview. Nothing to wear.  No breasts.

She was an angel.  She sought me out a few separates and filled up the change room with new options as I ditched the old.   Despite my nerves I started to enjoy myself and learnt some things about shapes I do and don’t like to wear.

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Many of the clothes that I chose first up made me look like a child, and I realised that I don’t want to look young anymore.  I want to own my age and all the life experience that comes with it.  I needed to channel Nina. Nina owns her age without giving up her sense of fun.

 

Offspring Photo from tenplay.com.au

So here I am in my secondhand suit.  And with my new ethos on hand, I have begun making a few essential pieces that will take me into a new decade without giving up the fun.

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Details

PatternShe has Mannish Style  shirt 17 (L) no adjustments.

Fabric: Silk cotton from Potters fabrics bought a long while ago.

Notions: Vintage Glass buttons from an estate sale

Techniques different to instructions: French seams, collars as per Andrea’s different order, patience and unpicking

See Also: Meggipeg, Sew busy Lizzie, Sunday Studio

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A new state

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Have you seen the growing list of textile lovers signed up to make locally sourced outfits with me this year?   I am really excited to have you all on board, welcome!

Meanwhile, big changes have happened in my world!  I now live on the opposite side of the country, which means that while my family is now 4 hours flight away (sniff), we have settled back into our home in Melbourne which is full of art, life and memories.

I jumped straight into things feeling it was the best way to feel at home again.  The most exciting of which is an 8 shaft weaving course with Ilka White, which is opening my mind up to the world of possibilities that weaving presents and I will show you more soon.

Amongst the move, and the jumping into new things, I forgot about my other new state. The state of my body.  The fragile and tired state of my body.  In Perth, I had found a quiet rhythm that helped me get through the days without falling into a heap.  But on my return to Melbourne, my mind wants to return to days full of action, but my body just cannot keep up.

I am feeling the loss of the old me, the me pre cancer who lived here, the one who had seemingly boundless energy. I am feeling frustration that I am not back to my old self, as I start to accept for the first time that  the exhaustion I feel may not be a temporary thing, but a permanent state of being.

So my first challenge in my new state is to accept this new state.  To work with it and to ease back into life.

I went for a walk today to snap shots of this merino cowl neck top, as I made it, and two more for the kids, in January but keep failing to get a good shot.  Well, I think the shot doesn’t say too much about the top, but it does tell my story for you…and perhaps that is even better.

 

Merino Cowl Necks 

Patterns:    my knit dress block and kids Ottobre 2012 38 Boys T Size 134 , sewn with larger seam allowances for my youngest.  (I really like this issue of Ottobre and have used it for all my kids knit basics if you find one around.)

Fabric:   2.7m Natural Colour NZ merino knit from the Fabric Store
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Green Notes:   Aside from a tag that says the wool is farmed in the NZ Southern Alps I am unsure at to how it is processed.  I am going to take it on as my first #1year1outfit 2016 mini project to find out!

I dyed the wool in 3 natural dye colours, mine is Gardenia, the kids were solar dyed with purple carrot and a weak indigo honey lime vat (Using this method).
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Tidbits:  These came together easily fairly easily. I used every last scrap of the merino knit but varying the cowls a little on each one.  Construction was done on the over-locker, which I am slowly getting to grips with.

Score: 5/5 natural fibers, natural colours, super useful, super warm, what’s not to love.